Weekly Write: “Blue” by Katie Karnehm-Esh

Blue

I think of the soft blue sweatsuit you were wearing that warm day in May. Then I think of the way you stared through the bars of the crib, and us. You must be a teenager by now; do you still sleep in a crib? I have a photo of you in my office that one of the students took—do you remember the boy with the red hair?—as I clipped your fingernails through the bars. I can’t look at it very often, and I am grateful that in this photo I cannot see your face. Sometimes my heart still twists up when I think of you, lying on your side staring into a dark tiled room, making occasional noises in neither English nor Mandarin.

Did you know I thought you were a boy the whole afternoon? Blame it on the bowl haircut or the blue sweatsuit. After two weeks in China, I should have known so many of you become androgynous in the orphanage. But I knew the gender of the tiny girl in pink who grinned and stole food. We brought snacks for all the children, and she grabbed the largest hoard. Everyone but you and the infants had a stash, curled their bodies around their plastic-wrapped food. Midway through washing our hands, the water stopped. The German nurse told us the director often turns off the water, that at mealtimes the workers put out food and let the children fend for themselves. Fewer diapers this way. We thought of this when they served us a private cafeteria feast. So much broccoli and pork. So many noodles choking in our throats. The German nurse said, “Eat. If you get upset. I can’t come back to help them.”

I picked you up to help you eat the smashed bananas. The nurses said you would choke and throw up if you ate; they said you only ate milk. I offered a spoonful, slow. Then another, praying it wouldn’t make you sick later.

After I picked you up, there was no reason to put you down. They told me later you were nine years old, but I could not believe you were more than five. You were stiff and quiet in my arms, sometimes seizing into fast shallow breaths. It’s OK, I would tell you, rocking back and forth. We swayed down the green-gray hallway, stopping in the bathroom where two children sat on the floor in a shower stall. One kept laughing and laughing as the water gurgled. The other sat as silent as you. “They protect each other,” one of the nurses told me. The tiny pink grinning girl ran up to me and demanded more snacks. When you started to hyperventilate again, I patted your back. Your spine was like the ridges of a rock wall.

When the German nurse told us we had twenty more minutes, and went back to checking vital signs and bruises, I stepped outside into the courtyard with you. You blinked; so much green and sun. The guard dog in the courtyard barked at us, asking who are you? We walked over to answer. He stared at us from behind a circular fence surrounding a tall tree, and you stared back at him, that furry black thing. Then you leaned your head on my shoulder and sighed.

Something inside me didn’t so much crack as give way. I looked at the white van we’d ridden in from Shenyang, and thought about our flight on Sunday, your crib in the big tiled room, the bananas the workers said you couldn’t eat. If I made a run for the van with you, the German nurse could never come back to feed you.

When she said it was time to go, she didn’t seem angry that it took me a long time to walk you back to your crib and lay you down. You stared out into the room, like you had when I found you. I don’t know what I said. Maybe nothing. I speak English after all. This was not the right place to say I love you or I’ll come back because maybe lying is worse than never having been here. So I whispered goodbye; it’s OK; goodbye; it’s OK while I put you back in your bed and walked away.

Did you know that for months afterwards, I sent emails to check on you? I asked as casually as I could, in a way that someone who is voluntarily childless and in a bad marriage will ask after a child thousands of miles away in an orphanage that does not give up children or feed them. You would never be coming home with me. So when I prayed, it was that you had food. That you had green afternoons and sunshine and a dog barking hello! And that sometimes, when someone rubbed your back and clipped your fingernails and told you it was OK, this would feel like a happy, reoccurring dream you couldn’t quite place.

 

Katie Karnehm-Esh’s background is in creative nonfiction and poetry, with a Ph.D in creative writing from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Her writing has been published in Whale Road Review, Barren Magazine, The Cresset, The Other Journal, and Windhover. Additionally, she writes a monthly blog for Annesley Writers Forum. Her writing often centers around holistic health, travel, and faith as well as social justice, and she welcomes the opportunity to learn from fellow writers.

 

 

 

“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

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Weekly Write: “Afternoon” by Holly Painter

Afternoon

In the afternoon, when the sun lit
the endless fall of dust particles, we
wondered if only we could see them

and kept wondering as we fell asleep,
your limbs wrapped around me,
a barnacle bigger than the boat,

and your fingers twitched
Morse code messages on my back
as you dreamed and then forgot

you were dreaming, until you woke
and the room was grey and you
remembered there is no color

without the light, except behind
my eyelids where my dreams
continued because I didn’t know

the sun had set and taken all the colors with it.

 

Holly Painter lives with her wife and son in Vermont, where she teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. Her first full-length book of poetry, Excerpts from a Natural History, was published by Titus Books (2015). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also been published in literary journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the UK.

 

 

 

“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

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Weekly Write: “A Poet Is” by Romana Iorga

A Poet Is

1.
An eel, open-mouthed at the mouth
of its burrow, borrowing time
until the right prey comes along.

Fish glide by with their frivolous tails
of who kissed whom in the seaweed
and who got in trouble with the shark.

2.
An owl, morose on its branch,
hungry for three days now and counting,
waiting for the big game.

Mice won’t suffice any longer. No to juvenile
rabbits, daft foxes, reckless raccoons.
A moose would be good.

3.
A spider, spinning constantly, greedily, not
so patiently, slowly becoming Whitman
of the white beard and wide-brimmed hat.

Then, erasing the web, one strand
at a time, for perceived flaws. Nothing
ever catches in the unraveling snare.

4.
A child, whose quick hand traps the tail
of a lizard. He watches it wriggle in the dirt,
while the prey darts for its life.

Swift, swift, swiftly into the blessed
shadow of weeds, into the yawning
jaws of a snake, who’s not even

a poet.

 

Originally from Chisinau, Moldova, Romana Iorga is a  Romanian-American poet living in Switzerland. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ruminate, saltfront, Borderlands, as well as on her poetry blog at clayandbranches.com.

 

 

 

“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

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Weekly Write: “Unsuitable Terrain” by Avi-Yona Israel

Unsuitable Terrain

today I went crazy
with the feeling that I’m not meant:
my bath became the sea and I tried to have an awakening
batten down the hatches, this was a storm,
and there’s water filling the ship accompanying me down
rain got into my ears filling the back of my throat
sending bitter foamy waves up and out
trembly, frightened to face the expanse without a night sky above –

teeth and nails sawed through my sister’s abandoned pillow,
surprise!
a brief moment to ponder that the feathers are multicolored.
wispy snow softly, one inch thick, will stick
one by one I tore pages from a book about women
of no importance, ideal husbands, lies and also truth
ink, eggshell,
I lay down in my nest

asking if anyone is my mother and if she knows
why I am still here, what is wrong with me?
neck and limbs of a dusty health class mannequin – leaning,
rolling and heaving to woman-made post-mortem sighs bangs whimpers
away from things like sun and hindsight
dry storm hardened feet and knees tucked elsewhere beneath towels and coats
unable to bear the warmth of the bed I made, lie in it
I cried into the floor, mouthed sorry to the downstairs neighbor.

 

Avi-Yona Israel is a writer living in Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Emerson Review, The Seventh Wave, Esthetic Apostle, Capulet Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, and midnight & indigo, among others.

 

 

 

“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

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Weekly Write: “Perfection” by Andy Posner

Perfection

I had thought I lacked for time
And spent my days frantic,
As though life were a web
And death a looming spider, his
Approach inexorable, his mouth
Large enough to swallow whole
My ambitions.

I had thought I lacked for time
And arose each dawn to make up
For yesterday’s failure,
To promise that today I would be perfect;
I bribed the gatekeepers of perfection
With my promises—
“O, let me through!” I begged.
And at night I’d rub my forehead
Where the iron had held me back,
The currency of my promises
Still glistening like anxious sweat in my hand.

For years I pressed my nose to glass
And watched sun, wind, rain, snow
As they whirled past my stationary self
Like a riderless bicycle balanced
By something, someone, I couldn’t see.

I had thought I lacked for time
And raced to outrun the bell
Whose ring might rouse me from my dream,
Only to at last find I was awake and tired
And still holding coins no deity, no therapist, no poet
Would accept—a pauper with a home, a job, a six-figure net worth,
Wanting for nothing, suddenly with time to spare,
Unable to afford even a moment of calm self-reflection.

 

Andy Posner grew up in Los Angeles and earned an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown. While there, he founded Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial services to low-income families. He has had poems published in the Noble / Gas Qtrly, The Esthetic Apostle, and Burningword Literary Journal.

 

 

 

“Like”, “Share”, and comment on this poem to nominate it for the Annual Swimming with Elephants Publications 2019 Anthology.

Click here check out Parade: Swimming with Elephants Publications Anthology 2018 available for only $10.95.